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What Is Vestibular Physiotherapy?

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  • Written By: Sandra Koehler
  • Edited By: Rachel Catherine Allen
  • Last Modified Date: 22 November 2016
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Movement is made possible by the coordination of different muscle groups and the ability of the body to maintain balance during the motion. Balance is controlled by the vestibular system of the body, mostly inside the inner ear, regulating eye movement and muscular control. Vestibular physiotherapy is a division of therapy designed to identify and treat balance problems interfering with activities of daily living.

The vestibular system works in coordination with the eyes, or visual system, and the skeletal system, consisting of the muscles, bones and joints, to determine and maintain body positions both when a person is moving or at rest. Problems with this system often lead to dizziness or an unstable gaze, the inability to focus in on an object to maintain balance. This can lead to an unsteady gait or the inability to maintain balance, especially when moving. The symptoms of vestibular problems also include such things as general dizziness, also referred to as vertigo, or lightheadedness, and sensations of falling. In some instances, blurred vision and a sense of disorientation or confusion may also contribute to altered ability to move fluidly and purposefully. When movement is altered by unsteadiness, vestibular physiotherapy is indicated to help correct these flaws to increase overall steady mobility.

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Though vestibular physiotherapy cannot correct the inner ear problems associated with balance deficiencies, it can aid in forcing the central nervous system to compensate for the changes causing difficulties with movement. This form of physical therapy attempts to familiarize the body to changes leading to better tolerance of movement through continual movement therapy combining the use of the head, eyes and body to decrease symptoms. This is accomplished by a progressive exercise program designed to incorporate all the necessary components of balance repeated until the body learns coping mechanisms and begins to adapt to changes in body positions without demonstrating the symptoms hampering fluid, asymptomatic movement.

For example, an individual who demonstrates extreme dizziness with a simple turn of the head could benefit from a vestibular physiotherapy program beginning with simple exercises to learn to train gaze on a stationary object to lessen vertigo and regain balance in a seated position. Once compensation techniques are learned, the vestibular physiotherapy could progress to incorporating upper body movement followed by lower body movement, until the individual can change positions without dizziness. Other techniques can include rocking or swinging at varying speeds time after time to decrease the time it takes for the body to adapt. Once seated balance compensation techniques are fine-tuned, vestibular physiotherapy incorporates balance techniques in standing and walking.

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